That Muslims should perform the Hajj once in their lifetime is a given. But fulfilling that niyyah (intention) and figuring out the right time to go are among the biggest decisions Muslims will make in their life. And once that intention is declared, preparing for Hajj physically and mentally can be a daunting task. The plethora of books, videos, DVDs, pamphlets, and friendly advice can be overwhelming.

What do you take? What prayers do you say at what time? What is the schedule of rituals? How much does it cost? Who can go? Beliefnet’s starter kit will help you get going--whether you’re a Muslim thinking of going on the Hajj, or a non-Muslim curious to know what it’s all about.

What is The Hajj?
The Hajj is a pilgrimage to the Grand (Haram) Mosque in Mecca and its surrounding lands. It is one of Islam’s five essential pillars, and has been occurring without break for more than 1,400 years. Pilgrims, called Hajjis, complete a series of ancient rites done in the order set down by the Prophet Muhammad when he performed the first Hajj in 630 C.E. Visiting Madinah, the prophet’s city, is not required, but nearly all pilgrims make it a point to go there as well.

When does the Hajj occur?
The Hajj occurs during Zul-Hijjah, the last month on the Islamic lunar calendar. Certain rites are performed in the early days of Zul-Hijjah, but the ninth day is when pilgrims must stand on the Plains of Arafat in prayer. The 10th of Zul-Hijjah is Eid-ul-Adha, the second major Muslim holiday. Rites are also performed on the immediate days after Arafat, which is expected to fall on Dec. 30, 2006.

Who should go?
All Muslims who are financially and physically able should go on Hajj once in their lifetime. (You can go more than once.) A Muslim man must be free of debt for his Hajj to count. A Muslim woman must also be debt-free, and she must be accompanied by a mahram (chaperone). A woman’s mahram can be her husband, OR her brother, son, father, or other males whom she is prohibited to marry. If she has no mahram, a woman may seek a legally approved male companion. Children can go on Hajj, but because the pilgrimage is very difficult to perform, it is not encouraged.

If I want to go, what do I do first?

A Muslim must first make a niyyah (internal intention to God) to do Hajj. You must make sure you have a minimum of two weeks of vacation time (three weeks is the average time for Hajj), and the financial resources to go. You must then join a Hajj travel group, which are led by Hajj scholars who guide you through the pilgrimage. (The Saudi government has strict rules on how many Hajj visas it issues each year to each country.)

In the United States, Muslims must apply for a Hajj travel package with any of the numerous travel groups that are available (a Google search will produce information about hundreds of groups)--the earlier the better. These travel packages fill up fast, especially ones offered by reputable groups like Barakah Hajj and Dar el Eiman.

How much does it cost?
In the U.S., Hajj packages--which typically includes airfare from a major U.S. city to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, accommodations in Madinah, Mecca, Mina and Arafat, transportation between the Hajj destinations, and meals--can cost from between $4,000 to $10,000 a person depending on how comfortable and easy you want your trip to be.

The more money you spend, the better hotel you’ll have (with a private room instead of sharing it with three others in your group) and the closer your accommodations will be to the Grand Mosque. Of course, many Muslims feel the emphasis should be on doing the Hajj, and not paying big money for comfort.


What preparations should I make for the trip?
Before leaving, you must have a meningitis vaccination, which is required by the Saudi government. You’ll be traveling between many locations, so packing light is essential. Each pilgrim should plan on taking one large suitcase and one small bag for the days spent in Mina, Arafat, and Muzdalifa, a small area outside of Mecca where pilgrims spend the night after Arafat and gather stones to throw at the pillars that represent the devil.

Your Hajj travel group should also provide a detailed list of what to take, but here are some basic guidelines:

Clothing: Males will need their ihram (the clothes worn during the Hajj rituals)--two unsewn pieces of white cloth that is wrapped around the waist and put over one shoulder. For women, the ihram usually is a burkha (a robe, white, or light colors preferred) with a loose shirt and pants underneath, and a headscarf. The face and hands must be showing--the niqab (face veil) is not allowed. Two ihram per pilgrim are recommended.